Tag Archives: empathy

Capstone: Pluralism

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,–this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not African-ize America; for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face. (DuBois, 2003, p. 9)

P   L   U   R   A   L   I   S   M

Pluralism, as DuBois points out, consists of a bounty of dials that one must set out to align if they want to unlock their growth. The first level of pluralism is recognition: recognizing that multiple dimensions consistently interact within ourselves and the world in general. Recognition is important because without it people are not able to go on to the second level of engagement. Once we understand that all entities in this world consist of multiple layers, a reflective person works to establish stasis amongst these levels in an effort to learn and project the most perfect unification of self. The people who are the most successful at this must be honest in the review of themselves and said entity they are analyzing. They must understand what inherent biases, strengths, weaknesses, and learning opportunities are embedded in each dimension of these entities, in comparison to themselves, to see where balance should be pushed.

The most dominant sides of our identity quite naturally get the bulk of our attention. Therefore, explicit and vigilant practice and exercises are needed to facilitate the process in which internal saturation of all layers happens regularly. Individuals that are comfortable living and engaging in a pluralistic world often seek out additional stimuli and points of view to help them broaden their own internal compass that guides their daily interactions.

In this way, I believe that pluralism is essentially tied to empathy, as in it comes from a place where you see the experiences and thoughts of others as valuable cultural commentaries that can contribute to your own sense of self. The frame of correlation, rather than differences, helps us act from a place of integrity and inclusion. All of which help build the people we interact with and ourselves as more conscious contributors to society.

By integrity I mean whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as its vectors form and re-form the pattern of my life. Integrity requires that I discern what is integral to my selfhood, what fits and what does not-and that I choose life-giving ways of relating to the forces that converge within me: Do I welcome them or fear them, embrace them or reject them, move with them or against them? By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am. (Palmer, 1998, p. 3)

Accepting pluralism as an important and viable concept/task in your life shows that you value integrity, and work to actualize it in your selfhood. What I love about pluralism, as Palmer points out, is that it stems from the acknowledgement of difference. This acknowledgement can come from identifying incongruous internal and external aspects of our own identity. These variables can be scary, intimidating, seem beneath us, or better than us; the manifestations are unlimited. It is this revelation that allows pluralism to develop our psyches into states of depth.

Education, as a function of the state, has historically been anti-pluralistic. In the infancy of modern American public education, school theorists battled with how to socialize immigrant families, while still teaching to what the ideals of an American life would be in the future. As a result, this called for the unilateral prioritization of American values and communication strategies. Many European immigrants, dreaming of the successful images advertised overseas, entered this country and gladly assimilated into the culture. Resultantly, and phenomenologically, the immigrants received access into dominant society, thusly acknowledging the validity and necessity of their values and personhood. Furthermore, they were given access to help facilitate the very processes that determine educational and cultural acceptability for others to come in the future (now the present). What’s interesting is that we battle essentially the same policy issues today in NYC and across the country. However, the immigrants of today face far more difficulties assimilating into a culture that much more easily can identify their otherness based on outside factors, such as hair texture, skin color, home language, income levels, etc…

As an educator, this process of self-reflection is infinitely important. Personally, I feel as though I seek to find answers in everything I encounter. Framed a different way though, I know that this can make me susceptible to thinking I will be able to find answers to my questions through my own impetus without seeking input from others more knowledgeable than myself. Thankfully, pluralism as a concept coaxes its employers into a constant state of critical thinking. I believe the true practice of pluralistic thinking must extend outside of the classroom to have the desired effect inside. It’s not a practice that can be easily turned on, and therefore, shouldn’t be viewed as something that can be turned off outside of our hours of professional duty. Pluralistic thinking requires us to authentically engage all learning opportunities, when and where they meet us, even at 3am on a restless evening. The true curator of the skill is able to take a bounty of experiences and turn them into something purposefully and immediately useful professionally, academically, and personally.

Pluralism, is therefore an internalized structure to establish and ingest sources of social and cultural strength. I view pluralism as a tool in which I overlap other’s schemas of knowledge over my own. This expands and multiplies my scope of connection to the world and its many different shades of people. Sometimes I feel as though the majority of educators emit low-frequency pluralism wavelengths, as though their antenna were calcified over. They diddley here, daddley there, yet never truly internalize the importance of stepping outside of themselves to expand their teaching scope. This important skill should be mandatory in order to show and teach our students how to be loved and accepting in the universe. To purposely not seek to learn your students is negligence incarnate:

“A heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon us. As a people, we feel ourselves to be not only deeply injured, but grossly misunderstood. Our white country-men do not know us. They are strangers to our character, ignorant of our capacity, oblivious to our history and progress, and are misinformed as to the principles and ideas that control and guide us, as a people. The great mass of American citizens estimates us as being a characterless and purposeless people; and hence we hold up our heads, if at all, against the withering influence of a nation’s scorn and contempt. Frederick Douglass, in a statement on behalf of delegates to the National Colored Convention held in Rochester, New York, in July 1853.” (Alexander, 2010, p. 140)

The Allegory of the Cave

As I become more enlightened about the way the world works, I find myself fighting constantly with how to internalize what I’m uncovering, and how to share this new information with my peers and loved ones. I recently found Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, in which he describes how humanity basks and boasts in the ignorance of what they don’t know. When an individual is called to a higher plane of consciousness, they first struggle to understand it as reality, then work to a state of clarity that challenges, but eventually comes to coexist with their identity in some form. However, it is the duty of the enlightened individual to return to his peers to help them too become more knowledged. His peers, absent of the same stimuli will question, taunt, and even condemn their adventurous comrade. However, thus is the onus and opportunity of insight.

“It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good, but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honors whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do even with the prospect of death. They shall give of their help to one another, wherever each class is able to help the community.” (DystopiaUK, 2014)

The Allegories

Watching this powerful parable made me think of three of my own short stories that help to explain how pluralistic thinking, or a lack thereof, truly does impact our world in ways we can’t imagine. The following three allegories have helped me contextualize why it is always necessary to root my own knowledge development as something that is ever-growing. These allegories serve to challenge us to go beyond the comfort in thinking we know enough about life as is, or that my status quo is good enough for another man.

The push of competition

Imagine for a second that you are running a race against four other people. You represent all of the people of privilege in this race. At some point you take the lead and have held that lead for many centuries. Someone who is new to running may think this is the best position to hold, the front. And those that support you hoot and holler each time you complete another lap in front of your peers. You have internalized the applause so long from your supporters that you begin to assume that your place in the lead is the best position and the only position to be in. Experienced runners though, know that this is the most precarious position to hold, as you have no one else to help you gauge your own pace nor the energy expending. Nor can you truly gauge where you are in relation to your competition. Relying on yourself for so long, you become exhausted and careless with your form. You sloppily continue around the track working ever-harder to hold your lead, recklessly blocking those who work to pass you, even though they would help push the pack to an even greater pace.

While others behind you can easily see your waning form and strength, you assess yourself solely as the leader, and are unable to realize how this artificial pace causes more chaos than good for all stakeholders in the race. In life, many people assume we’re running a sprint against each other. This may have been true millennia ago. The reality is we’re running a marathon, and need to rely on the talents of everyone involved to run the best race possible.

The power of the uninformed/unbothered decision maker

Now, imagine for a second that you are a female. You have your own value and idea system as a fully capable and willing adult should. Suddenly, you are abducted by a nearby tribe of barbaric men. After being transported to their home territory, you find out that they not only disrespected your right to choose where you live, you no longer have any legal protections under their law. You are forced to live a life according to patriarchal rule and views, which differed dramatically from those you had shaped and developed to enhance your own vision of life as a woman. Without your input/guidance, the system run by those barbaric men would probably have no contextual lens to make progressive and supportive systems to protect your well being as the sole woman. Using that same lens, how do you respond when I tell you that as an Afrikan American adult male, it was devastatingly painful to have participated in a teacher training program that left abundant opportunities to incorporate perspective from overtly Afrikan, Chicano, and Disabled communities. Luckily, we live in a world where both contexts exist, and we see clearly how that is shaping out for women. We look in disdain as our male leaders continuously make ill-informed decisions about matters that only affect them during the workweek, but devastate and uproot the stability and comfort of our female counterparts lives’ in entirety. Most people understand the recent abortion legislation deemed acceptable by all male Supreme Court Justices as being asininely detached from what any woman would ever consider a responsible use of judicial power. How, then, could you, as a pluralistic person come to understand our continued oversight in regards to the education and support of our students and their teachers from Afrikan, Chicano, and Disabled diaspora?

Male Privilege

I remember being given privilege for being born male in my own household at an early age. Having a sister that is approximately three years older than I, there were constantly things I was allowed to do/experience that she herself was not. Many times my own mother would chalk the difference up to me being a boy and not having to consider the same security concerns in mind when thinking about me as opposed to my sister. Part of the reason I enjoy teaching in my classrooms is because, as a male, I also never fear for my safety. I use my gender, physical presence, spatial movement a lot in my practice – and specifically because I am male. There are  many times I’ve had to posture to prevent an outbreak in my classroom by physically making myself bigger or smaller depending on what the situation calls for. I also invoke my vocal register, normally by lowering my tone and slowing my speech when absolutely needing focus and order. In these moments, I specifically think my students respond to my maleness more than anything else. I use my body language to show them that I’m the leader of the pack, and when they cross the line they must defer back peacefully into the troop. I also am quite comfortable walking home at 1am from long nights studying simply because as a male, I rarely ever feel unsafe out on the street.

As I age, I grow ever more comfortable in my gender-identity and the privilege and opportunities it has afforded me. Even through my own privilege, it has been only recently where I began to realize sexism and how I unknowingly perpetuate it by simply assuming as a biologically stronger male that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want to, because of the relative safety given due to my sex. As I’ve internalized this, I’ve also come to understand that some females don’t have the same luxuries I take for granted. Furthermore, to even assume they don’t perpetuate this very same oppressive mind state that labels them as something less than I.

The most important breakthrough I’ve had in this realm has been my complicit comfort and absolute non-desire to give this inherent maleness up. I was born with this and didn’t choose or work to have this. In many ways I’m supremely oblivious to the privilege I receive from it on a daily basis. In this way I yield to racisms truest power. If, my White brothers and sisters experience any type of awakening as I’ve had in my own male privilege, I can understand their ambivalence in knowing which steps to take to eradicate something they themselves seem to have little to no control over. And, to be frank, something they wish not to lose on their own behalf. I, for one, would only be interested in walking this Earth as a female for a short time to see what I cannot see in my male-tinted glasses. The combined lack of knowledge and desire to eradicate my maleness, seems like the strongest parallel between what my White brothers and sisters may experience in this globally radicalized debacle.

Race plays a major role – indeed, a defining role – in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors. All racial caste systems, not just mass incarceration, have been supported by racial indifference.  (Alexander, 2010, p. 203)

Understanding that gender dynamics play a large role in the world and in the classroom, I work endlessly to identify and squash language/slang that perpetuates the gender biases that my students are exposed to everyday. I work diligently to make space for my female students’ voices, ideas, and comfort in classrooms that stink of the explosive and spontaneous displays of masculine bravado of my young men. I work to create space for them to be themselves, but to also imbue within all members of my classrooms that females are to be respected. Disrespect has no space in my classrooms, nor in the world. I am a bit biased in my discipline in that I go harder on my young men when I feel they are perpetuating negative stereotypes against women and young ladies in my classrooms. I don’t think they yet understand, or have even heard of gender bias, but I hope that my consistent and strong response to what I deem as repressive gender theory soaks in deeply enough for them to internalize and gain from when they grow into productive citizens.

Institutional Responsibility

What is the responsibility of an institution charged with protecting and educating all of its citizens? I believe it is up to us as the institutional cells to seek out what the representatives of our target cultures have to say about themselves.  We must do the work of incorporating culturally accountable research, narratives, and opinions into the lay of our curriculum, and the scope of our own thinking. And when we think we’ve done enough, go back to do even more.

The third problem I believe we must overcome is the narrow and essentially Eurocentric curriculum we provide for our teachers. At the university level, teachers are not being educated with the broad strokes necessary to prepare them properly for the twenty-first century. We who are concerned about teachers and teaching must insist that our teachers become knowledgeable of the liberal arts, but we must also work like the dickens to change liberal arts courses so that they do not continue to reflect only, as feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh says, “the public lives of white Western men.” These new courses must not only teach what white Westerners have to say about diverse cultures, they must also share what the writers and thinkers of diverse cultures have to say about themselves, their history, music, art, literature, politics, and so forth. (Delpit, 2006, p. 181)

There seems to be a small handful of my peers that are capable of bringing more from outside experiences to help frame their teacher training. I, for one, would be extremely interested to see what type of round table could be established to gather our ideas, hear our challenges, and see where growth can be had. This could be scholarly debate in its finest form. This Innovation Council of Educators (ICE) could consist of first-year, second-year, graduating-fellows, and students from the traditional education program. If I were a student with autism, from Chicago heritage, learning disabled, or an English language learner, I wonder what my assessment of this program would be. I also wonder what resources I would have begun to find on my own that would flesh out my own canon of theorized tools to use in my classroom. I look at the Teacher Resources Center on campus and see such a beautiful compilation of resources. However, LIU could work wonders here in expanding its own library of resources by adding first person accounts of theory, practice, and foundational skill development, etc… I believe this to be a very doable adventure into developing innovative responses to what has been systemic negligence in the urban education and disability fields.

One of my own hesitations to criticize is that I understand that the student population of most urban education programs is overwhelmingly White, therefore using culturally relevant texts for them constitutes a mostly white index of research and authors. However, using basic education theory, do we push student growth by continuously giving them stimuli they’re used to, or by pushing them to decipher sources they find difficult and foreign. I believe the program could use some concerted focus on scaffolding up as opposed to what it used with us. One place where that growth can be pushed is by using a more difficult set of texts. LIU can be a leader in this field if they were to massively expand the official texts used to push and challenge their students’ thoughts and foundations for their teaching practice.

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive. I certainly wasn’t seeking any degree, the way a college confers a status symbol upon its students. My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. (X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1992)

In closing, we still must rely on ourselves first to do that work required to enlighten ourselves beyond the constraints of our own singular identities. Even with a simple homemade education, one could begin to dive into a world where their perspective alone didn’t frame the values of life. It is through these pluralistic contexts that we will begin to reach our fullest potential through humanity and it’s weaponized use of public education.

======= SOURCES

Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: New Press.

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press :.

DuBois, W. E., & Griffin, F. J. (2003). The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.

DystopiaUK. (July 20, 2014). PLATO Allegory of the Cave Animated) Retrieved from http://youtu.be/_dlmsULpgjI

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The Heart of a Teacher Identity and Integrity in Teaching. The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif.: JosseyBass.

X, M., & Haley, A. (1992). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: One World/Ballantine Books.

Capstone: Empathy

—- E  M  P  A  T  H  Y —-

Empathy: the confrontation that takes place when we realize we have all been reared in a universe where racism is real, depends on unconscious biases, and can only be arbitrated when beseiged by direct and transparent restoration methods.

As I’ve reflected on this traumutizingly edifying portfolio process, I thought, for a second, that perhaps my observations were a fabricated manifestation, built from the mental anguish experienced through teaching and learning for two years with only an iota of a break. Luckily, I’ve been filling the long pauses between writing with episodes of the 2013 documentary series – The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The documentary takes us through 500 years of African and African American cultural contributions and developments that impact and dissolve into the very soul that nourishes (present tense) our country. Sectors of the soul-baring culture have without a doubt spawned programs, such as this one, in which we seek to be privileged with the distinction as being teachers, masters, doctors, and professors of urban education practice. Validity in us as a distinguished practicing class has yet to be established in lieu of the great academic and critical thinking gains absent in the audiences we wish to teach.

I’m supposed to begin this piece, by defining Empathy as I’ve come to understand it, followed with multiple examples of how I’ve demonstrated this skill with my students. The latter is fairly simple, and a natural sentiment that I extend to all people. In many ways, my own personhood is founded on extending conscious courtesy as often as possible. Call it my midwestern upbringing; call it my compassion for my fellow human beings; I’m almost tempted to call it my minority privilege, in that I’m biologically gifted with the foresight that connects me with and causes me to pause in authentic reception and service to my fellow marginalized man. This process has been incredibly rich for me. I now, thanks to LIU, know so much more about the way things work here on Earth. However, another equally invested part of me is disappointed in myself because I feel I’m anguishing over this far more than my peers. I love them and have been built by them as well, but I assume they’re knocking this project out, while I’m sitting here fumbling through my bookshelf finding resources to highlight my authentic journey through this process. But, at the end of the day, none of that even matters – we’re all leaving here with the same shit attached to our names…

The passing of Elder Maya Angelou was heartbreaking for me. She spoke with so much poise and wisdom. Luckily, her fossilized words will continue to highlight for people the true strength we wield as a humanity. One of the more popular quotes people shared from Elder Angelou after her transition was “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but will never forget how you made them feel.”

When I think about my own Empathy practice, I envision it embodies Angelou’s words. My students, like my young brothers and sisters in this world, are my responsibility to protect in the broad sense of the word. Fundamentally and minimalistically, I require my students to enter my classroom space in a place where they contribute to the safety and patrol of our close knit community. In other words, Paladin’s classrooms at the bare minimum require students to 1) respect their fellow brothers and sisters in the class, and 2) restrain from creating environments that threaten or tarnish the safety of that space. I believe it is a privilege for students to have me as their classroom leader in this regard, and don’t hesitate to communicate that to them. The rest, such as effective instructional and behavior management techniques are mine to push.

However, boxing out peer-to-peer/adult-to-peer negativity to help my students feel comfortable is only a small part of my empathetic role as an instructional leader. My main role, is to make my students feel/see their intelligence. I’m effective [edit: I’m developing] at this, but am eager to still drastically grow in this regard. I try to push my students to truly learn themselves. I do this by pushing them, as family does, to not settle for what they know or have been told; to reach. To reach deeper behind the veil to find even more of themselves than they knew existed. My ultimate role as a classroom leader is to plant the seeds of trust, security, belief, and esteem deep within my babies. It’s not that important to me that the seeds germinate in my presence. I’m more interested in my students realizing later, when confronted with adulthood, that they know who they are, and are able to stand firm in that foundation rooted in the seeds of empowerment and freedom planted so long ago.

My mentees, as I see them, will be amazing leaders in the future. I see it in their eyes every time I challenge them to push their leadership to the front. These kings and queens are nowhere close to being perfect, but hopefully in me they see a model of love, nurturing, and support that worked to push them toward their successes so long ago in life.

Initially, this post was far more angry. It still may take a sharp left down Embittered Ave. But, I know the most immediate thoughts would be, what is this Black boy talking about? He must have graduated from troubled and finally reached his full Black-brute state. Thanks to some self reflection, I’ve come to better understand that I do in fact have the right to be upset and downright irate and here’s why:

I’m angry because I’ve realized that all of us, like fools, have continued to participate in systems that ensure our oppression. And when I say our oppression, I mean the oppression of everyone who believes they act out of free will in this country. Most importantly, we people of color, minorities, and people labeled as having an ability difference – we are marginalized sectors of the population. Additionally, and maybe more invisibly, each member of institutional employment participates as well. [Teachers, Police officers, etc…]

Allow me for a second, to give an unauthorized history lesson. I don’t quite remember where our education began as teaching fellows, somewhere along the lines of the 1800’s up through the creation and implementation of IDEA and other forms of the law. This was all somewhat helpful in becoming a empathetic Special Education practitioner. However, let’s also think of perspective and the history of humanity in general. Education practice and law has been around for centuries, long before America had even been thought of as a new world. Did not the Native Americans teach the first settlers how to tow the land to reap the best harvest from the soil they knew so intimately? Reaching back even further, must not someone have taught the Egyptians and their servants/slaves how to build pyramids aligned to track the cosmos? Education as a practice has been here since day one. How did the gift of fire or the dissemination of the plans for the wheel get to us now, if others had not sought to show their peers what they were doing? How much care, appreciation, and authenticity are we showing for this education process if we haphazardly choose to only recount the last few seconds of what has been a truly epic tale?

Take a second and contemplate this question – As an industry entrusted to educate the urban masses, where are we headed? What is our/your end goal? Most probably don’t have a clear answer to these very basic questions. Do you? Who is setting our educational agendas from pre-school to the Ph.D? And what are their motives in the standards they choose to push? Do we know? Do we care? Perhaps that is all part of the design.

When you look at this map what do you see? clash_of_civilizations_map

(The Clash of Civilizations, Abagond, 2014)

 “The leadership of the Negro of to-day must be able to locate the race, and not only for to-day but for all times. It is in the desire to locate the Negro in a position of prosperity and happiness in the future that the Universal Negro Improvement Association is making this great fight for the race’s emancipation everywhere and the founding of a great African government…” (Garvey, 1967, p. 49)

The above map (Abagond, 2014), highlights an estimation of the major civilizations as of 2014. I would draw attention the sections highlighting the African, Latin American, and Western civilizations as those three regions represent the bulk of the stakeholders in my school setting. Garvey states it clear and he states it well. Let us take stock of what is going on, not just with the negro people, but with humanity in general. Once we know where we are, we can plot an effective plan for our futures. One detrimental fact of our scholarship at LIU is that it never, successfully, approaches the true role of state-funded education (preschool through the PhD.) or our roles as facilitators to these various levels of education and training. Our industry, public education, and ourselves as educators play the most critical role in creating a future society in our own image. We, almost solely are responsible for showing our youth pieces of a culture deemed acceptable to perpetuate and habits that are not. This social programming, aka education, is helpful because it develops us from reactionary persons to a more proactive, thoughtful people. We think about what we do before we do it. We plan. We wish for certain outcomes and work to make them happen.

Something I’ve stumbled upon through my scatter plot research this year was the recognition that the era of civilization(s) didn’t stop with the fall of the Roman, Greek, and Egyptian empires. One would imagine that this would be open and useable knowledge to draw upon as we develop the people of our future. Yet somehow, even in what we care to call this advanced state of civilization, we still struggle to identify and codify what it means to be a living, breathing, modern day humanity. Struggling to come to grips with that explains, partially, why we as Americans don’t often talk about the leading civilizations of our time, and how precariously and maniacally we retain our seat at the top, for the moment.

Perhaps it’s because the powers that be are scared that if people understood the world from its global perspective, they would wake up and begin making the small independent changes that would lead to revolution and dare I say it – spontaneity.

What is empathy?

The surface answer would be attempting to understand the emotions, feelings, and situations of someone that is experiencing a dimension of life that I, myself, am not experiencing. Empathy is not simplistic in its practice. Considering the cultural fabric we’re all crafted from, I claim that most people, in fact, do not empathize with their students. Especially if those students are of color and lack the radiant entitlements ascertained by those in privileged groups in the American/Western caste system.

“Anthropology is the study of the colored peoples of the world. They don’t study anybody else. Social Studies itself was founded and funded by the Mellons and the Carnegies, and those people who were interested in the deviates who were not like them. It got its first money from those people and they never studied themselves. Urban studies is the study of black people. And the approach vigorously held to in these studies – Blacks as wards of the state, never as its pioneers. It does take two to hold a chain – the chained and the chainer. And its takes two to make anthropology, the student and the studied. And although no group in the world has had more money spent on it, to have it genetics examined, its fecundity stopped, its intelligence measured. Cross acculturation is consistently neglected. And I would like to know who are these people who know our sperm count, but they don’t know our names? That being the case. It is time, it is way past time for the study to examine the student, and to evaluate its own self. And the fruits should be immense value to us, to all of us.” (Morrison, 1975)

Thusly, sympathy as opposed to empathy, is often employed when dealing with individuals that society has deemed as worthless and forgettable. I regretfully claim that my peers sympathize with my students. My professors, sympathize with our students. Our teacher education programs, sympathize with our students. I, however, live, breathe, and bleed empathy for my students. Sympathy views people as weak, dependent on support, and as victims. Sympathy takes the power away from the individual affected, and puts it in the hands of the privileged assessor. Empathy, recognizes value in all experiences, places equal value in all points of view, and actively makes space so those experiences can sit side-by-side in an effort to build a new product from their interaction. Empathy seeks justice. Empathy is sleepless when it senses perpetrators on the loose raping the world of its most glorious future.

>>>> One can not be empathetic to an urban school population if one is not willing to proactively verse themselves in that culture by seeking authentic learning opportunities and progressive solutions to alleviate the symptoms of a plagued urban education industry. <<<< [re-read] My peers, my elders, my neighbors, for the most part know naught of African/African-American culture and history. Why does this matter? To feign care for me, yet ignore and actively disconnect me from my parents and my lineage is malpractice. Marginalized communities have long fought to be recognized as valuable contributions to society. Unfortunately, our (their) self-hood is continuously cast aside as nonessential specks to the racist White-savior slant time and time again. As Elder Angelou teaches, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” (Angelou, “OPRAH’S LIFECLASS: When People Show You Who They Are, Believe Them”, 2014) >>>> I therefore have been forced to deduce that you, my esteemed professor(s), have no interest in supporting the development of individuals that represent the Afrikan, Latin, and Disabled-American diaspora.<<<< [re-read] For if you did, surely you would work more diligently to shine light on the African, African American, Latino American, and Disabled American contributions and points of view in educational and sociological research.

To begin with, our prospective teachers are exposed to descriptions of failure rather than models of success. We expose student teachers to an education that relies upon name calling and labeling (“disadvantaged,” “at-risk,” “learning disabled,” “the underclass,” [“urban,”]) to explain its failures, and calls upon research study after research study to inform teachers that school achievement is intimately and inevitably linked with socioeconomic status. Teacher candidates are told that “culturally different” children are mismatched to the school setting and therefore cannot be expected to achieve as well as white, middle-class children. They are told that children of poverty are developmentally slower than other children… In other words, we teach rationales for failure, not visions of success. (Delpit, 2006, p. 178)

One of the first things I remember hearing as I entered the fellowship program was “Teaching is a very difficult job, and you shouldn’t expect to change the world.” To be fair, said person was just trying to frame our feeble idealism within the boxed-in a context commonly referred to as “realism”.

The strong idealistic force within allowed me to shake the bulk of this declaration off, as evidenced in my work ethic. >>>> However, as we can deduce, teachers of urban/disabled students, from day one, are never expected, or rather pushed, to make lasting/large scale impact on their communities!<<<< [re-read] How then, is one (teachers/teacher education program leadership) empathetic to the urban community if they implicitly condone the continued failure of the community in their watch?

The Danger of Realism and How it Codes Marginalized Despair –

The long reaching power of a community built on the pillars of empathy and support can be seen in my own peer group. As a Chicago native, born and raised, I had the pleasure to attend Crete-Monee High School with 2015 Chicago Mayoral hopeful Dr. Amara Enyia. Having graduated high school in 2003, it’s sobering to see Dr. Enyia now, roll out her powerful and confident Mayoral campaign. Especially considering she graduated high school a mere two years ahead of me in 2001. The cavalier holds a Ph.D. in Education Policy, and a Law degree from the esteemed University of Illinois. On the campaign trail, Enyia was asked how she could realistically win against a politically popular nuisance such as the current Mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Dr. Enyia’s answer sheds light on her spirit and her own Opportunity Paradox I spoke to in my Knowledge Domain:

“[Lyderson] – Realistically, do you think you have any chance to win the mayoral race?

[Dr. Enyia] – No one in history who has changed things did it by being realistic. My dad always said revolutions never come from people in the status quo; they come from those on the outside. You can’t be “realistic” when it comes to these things that are truly transforming. There’s a certain “delusional” quality that you have to have, because you see something that other people don’t see. For me, being realistic is being mediocre. It’s telling the guy on the street in Lawndale that this is it—this is as good as it’s going to get. I’ve seen otherwise. By running for office I want to reveal to him what I see, with the hope that he sees it too.” (Lyderson, 2014)

Speaking of Chicago, the violence there holds an immaculately grim mirror to our faces as we work to decode for ourselves how to create and innovate (see maintain status quo) every aspect of the institution of education from the teacher education programs to the scholarly work used to inform our practice. Thinking of the atrocities taking place everyday in my homeland, no one in their right mind can justify how or why a city of officials charged with protecting their public has continuously allowed vagrant violence to overtake the terrain. However, the media and propaganda machines work not-stop to ensure that the blame for the chaotic city is placed on one public, and one public alone.

Unfortunately, though, I’ve learned to redefine what constitutes an American tragedy. American tragedies occur where middle America frequents every day: airplanes, business offices, marathons. Where there persists a tangible fear that this could happen to any of us. And rightfully so. Deaths and mayhem anywhere are tragic. That should always be the case. The story here is where American tragedies don’t occur. American tragedies don’t occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don’t occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old’s birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News. These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own. (Dennis, 2013)

Are we to believe that the violence occurring in Chicago is innate to individuals in which it is consistently occurring? In being realistic, do we shrug our shoulders and hope they see the light on their own? Are we to believe that the current abysmal education curriculum, statistics, and theories utilized by education “professionals,” from Pre-K to Ivory Tower, are all we have to offer?

Would we, the educators entrusted to bring equality to this land, stoop to codifying urban and disabled student failure as merely the way life works? Somehow, we see that the urban classroom, its teachers, and their urban teacher education programs have distanced themselves from ensuring the proper and effectual fertilization for all of our young marginalized citizens. To be an urban educator, and to only care about your students from 8am-3pm is the microaggressive posture that prepares our students to be overlooked, and further castigated, in this American culture. To keep status quo infuriates the empathetic citizen.

As a tactful and fully capable core, we must show true empathy for our students young and old. To do this, we must start by revamping how we educate the future teaching force about the long and compelling history of the marginalized people that represent our student communities. A truly empathetic and knowledged professional would find a way to make innovation happen as they seek to continue to create the history that makes our country and our lived experiences so rich.

It’s time for America, the country where every dream is possible, and where everyone is born into this world an equal, to show us who they are, and this time we can feel at peace in believing in them.

=====

I get scared, overwhelmed, shaken, and defeated when I think about how far we have to go. There’s just so much that hasn’t been accounted for. It’s devastating to understand the complexity of life, but I just can’t pull myself away from what I know I can do to make a change. My most esteemed elder, Malcolm X, eloquently describes how I felt/feel upon discovering the educational injustice smothering my people out of future existence.

“…if there is a rattle snake in the field who has been biting your brothers and your sisters, and you go and tell them that that’s a rattle snake and all of the harm that has ever come to them has come to them from that particular source. Well then that rattler will think that the warner is teaching hate. He’ll go back and tell the other snakes this man is teaching hate, this man is teaching hate. But its not hate, it’s just that when you study people who have been harmed and discover the source of their injury, the source of all of their defects, and you begin to point out that source. its not that you hate the source, but your love for your people is so intense, so great, that you must let them know what is wrong with them. What is the cause of their ills. This is one of the basic factors. I believe involved when people think or when the propaganda is put out that Mr. Mohammed teaches hate. He teaches black people to love each other, and our love for each other is so strong we don’t have any room left in our heart.” (The Hate That Hate Produced, 1959)

======= Sources

Angelou, M. (Performer). (1997). OPRAH’S LIFECLASS: When People Show You Who They Are, Believe Them USA: Harpo Studios.

Dennis, D. (2013, May 15). Why isn’t New Orleans Mother’s Day parade shooting a ‘national tragedy’?. theguardian.com. Retrieved July 18, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/15/neworleansshootingnotnationalnews

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press :.

Garvey, M., & Garvey, A. J. (1967). Shall the Negro Be Exterminated?. Philosophy and opinions of Marcus Garvey or, Africa for the Africans (2d ed., ). London: F. Cass.

LYDERSEN, K. (2014, February 20). Who’s Afraid of Rahm Emanuel?. . Retrieved July 18, 2014, from http://inthesetimes.com/article/16321/amara_enyia_rahm_emanuel

Morrison, T., St. John, P., Callahan, J., Callahan, J., Baker, L. (1975, May 30). A Humanistic View. Black Studies Center public dialogue. Pt. 2. Lecture conducted from Portland State University, Portland, OR. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/portlandstatelibrary/ portlandstateblackstudies1

The Hate That Hate Produced. Perf. Malcolm X, Mike Wallace, Louis Farrakhan, Louis Lomaxis L omas and Elijah Muhammad. PBS, 1959. Television Documentary.